UC Davis Puts Adcom Chief On Leave

by John A. Byrne on

Bill Sandefer was director of admissions when the false data was reported to U.S. News

UC Davis Graduate School of Management today (Jan. 23) revealed that it is conducting an investigation to determine whether a newly hired admissions official played any role in falsifying data reported by Tulane University to U.S. News for the magazine’s ranking of the best MBA programs.

Tulane’s Freeman School of Business admitted last week that it falsely inflated average GMAT scores by an astounding 35 points for five consecutive years from 2007 to 2011. The school also conceded that it had falsely increased the number of completed applications it received by an average of 116 applications over the same time period.

The false reports went to U.S. News & World Report so that Freeman would be ranked more highly by the magazine’s annual lists of the best full-time MBA programs in the U.S. The disclosures were made as a result of an investigation by the law firm of Jones Day, which had been called in last month to do the probe by Tulane University’s Office of General Counsel.

PoetsandQuants disclosed in its reporting of the incident (“Who Cooked the Books At Tulane?“) that the school’s director of admissions for the five-year period for which false data was reported had been Bill Sandefer, who left the school in 2012 to become the senior director of graduate admissions at UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Management. Sandefer served as director of admissions at the Freeman School for 15 years before joining UC-Davis last summer.

In a statement, UC Davis GSM Dean Steven Currall said he and his staff “had no knowledge of the allegations” when Sandefer was hired by the GSM in June 2012. “This individual had no role in collecting, reviewing or submitting 2012 UC Davis MBA student data to U.S. News. Data submitted by the GSM was correct.

ADMISSIONS OFFICIAL PLACED ON ‘PAID INVESTIGATORY LEAVE’

“In the interest of fairness and transparency, I have directed an immediate investigation to determine if there is any basis in fact for the allegations that the former Tulane employee engaged in any inappropriate activity while at Tulane. To minimize the impact and stress on our employee, he has been placed on paid investigatory leave, effective last Friday, pending results of our investigation.”

The impact of the Freeman fraud is not yet clear. But from 2010 to 2012, Tulane’s Freeman School increased its ranking by 10 full places to 43rd last year from 53rd in 2010. Among other things, the school’s current position in U.S. News’ ranking was based on an apparently inflated average GMAT of its enrolled MBA class of 670 and a lower-than-actual acceptance rate of 56.7% Average GMAT scores loom large in the U.S. News’ methodology for calculating its MBA rankings, with a total weight of 16.25%. A school’s acceptance rate, which would be lower based on an inflated number of total applications, receives less weight, only 1.25%.

Dean Currall said “the GSM takes very seriously the compilation, integrity and security of student data reported to U.S. News and other rankings media. For example, we have, and have had, rigorous internal controls and checks in place to insure our data integrity. Data on our students are collected and compiled in a secure database and shared with rankings media by the GSM admissions operations manager, with oversight by Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, James Stevens, who has read-only rights to review and check the data, but not change it. Our operations manager has direct line access and reporting to me regarding the student data and its integrity.”

Average and median GMAT scores are among the most important criteria tracked by an admissions office because they represent the single best data point to determine the quality of an enrolled class. Unlike grade point averages which can differ significantly in some countries, GMAT scores are comparable across the world. So it is highly unlikely that a person holding the position of admissions director would not be aware of fraudulent reporting.

GMAT and other admissions data are usually handed over to a communications official at a school who would then turn them into U.S. News & World Report. Even if the numbers were not inflated in the admissions office, it would be unusual for the director of admissions to not notice the discrepancy once they were published by U.S. News–especially over five consecutive years. A 35-point difference, moreover, would have brought the school’s reported GMAT score down to 635 from 670 last year, a fairly significant change. 

‘YOU EITHER DON’T KNOW AND SHOULD OR THERE IS SOMETHING FUNNY GOING ON’

“You either don’t know and should, or you know and there is something funny going on,” said an admissions director of another top business school when asked for comment on the situation. The fraud was discovered shortly after Sandefer left Freeman in the fall of 2012, as the school prepared to submit data to external audiences relating to its full-time 2012 MBA program. “Discrepancies were found between accurate data being reported for the current year and data reported for the previous year,” the school said in the statement. As the school’s standards and admission criteria had not changed, Dean Ira Solomon raised a concern with the Office of the Provost.”

DON’T MISS: WHO COOKED THE BOOKS AT TULANE?

  • Alexander

    I smell a P&Q witchhunt! Have never seen this site focus on a school outside the top 10. I guess that’s because when you do you write articles that stink of trash tabloid-level journalism and persecution. I mean why on earth include so much comment from this gentleman’s new employer – he hasn’t been proved guilty of anything. Is this kind of reporting the reason that John Byrne created this site?

  • Juan Carlos

    I applaud PQ for the fair coverage of this story, it is definitely newsworthy as it shows the discrepancy in data in order to manipulate the rankings. This is not a honest mistake as the gap and 5 years period is systematic. The saga also displays the ugly underbelly of BSchool administration, kinda academic doping. It is serious allegation and needs to be investigated at Tulane and UCDavis. PQ may be top 10 centric but it has provided articles on BSchools outside Top10 such as JHU Carey, UCLA, UVa and Cornell. The doubt of data integrity is what follows Sandefer’s work, it would be the same if an academic is accused of plagiarism. the entire work would be investigated. I hope UCD and Tulane will deliver transparent results of its investigation and learn from this mistake.

  • MrPhysics

    It looks as if Mr. Sandefer or a supporter has found this article.

    The tone of this article is professional and objective.

  • highwyre237

    One of the running themes on this site has always been exploiting the flawed logic behind B-School rankings… this story is a huge red flag… The B-school game is very rankings driven, and John has done a nice job poking holes in the different methodologies used by leading publishers… but now, it’s clear that not only the method used, but the integrity of numbers reported are questionable. This site has convinced me to take rankings with a grain of salt, and use different metrics to asses where to matriculate.

  • Alex

    this whole saga sucks. I consider Bill a friend, someone with whom I have enjoyed working. I am hoping Bill makes a public statement on the matter.

  • Jack

    I agree with Alex. In the world of MBA admissions, Bill is known as one of the most upstanding individuals who many in the industry look up to. The coverage of this situation is so lopsided that it is hard to believe. 100% of the content of these “stories” are coming directly from the dean’s office at Freeman or a firm that was paid by the Dean’s office at Freeman. While there are outside sources hired and paid by the Freeman Dean’s office may say one thing, I assure you that there are inside sources at Tulane that say another. The truth will eventually come out and John Byrne will owe enormous apologies to any individuals that were slandered in the process of the sensational journalism that is taking place here. Until the facts are in, I will reserve judgement.

  • real world

    not really. did they try to contact mr sandefer for his side of the story? No.

  • JohnAByrne

    We tried to contact him on numerous occasions, via telephone and email, repeatedly over several months to no avail. I still very much want to interview him for the record.

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